To end our Pride Month series, we wanted to spotlight a few modern creatives that changed the game. What game, you might ask? These individuals are visionaries, entrepreneurs, role models and trailblazers. They continue a long tradition of pioneers who have shaped the national conversation about what it means to be LGBTQ in America.
I asked a few of my colleagues who we should include on this list, and some of them even had forgotten Tim Cook was gay. When Apple CEO Tim Cook came out in 2014, he penned a fantastic article for Bloomberg about what it means to be gay in a high profile position. It’s a powerful piece if you haven’t read it. As Mr. Cook says, being gay wasn’t really a secret since plenty of his colleagues knew, but he had never announced publicly he was gay.
I think this is a powerful message to send to people still struggling or to people who are unable to come out because of hostility in their community. It’s easier to announce you’re gay when you have a six-figure salary and are head of a high-profile company, but coming out is still a powerful message to send, especially when it could help anyone else. As Mr. Cook writes, “So if hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, then it’s worth the trade-off with my own privacy.”
Full disclosure: I am actually a huge fan of Project Runway. Ever since I heard Tim Gunn’s sassy “Make it work,” I knew that the attitude and style of the show is something that I would totally get into. While there have been a number of LGBTQ visionaries that have showed off their skills with needle and thread (or whatever unconventional material they want to use), Mondo Guerra stands out above all the others.
Not only is Mondo a vocal force for LGBTQ rights, but he had the courage to come out as HIV positive on the show. Since then, he has served as a spokesperson for both Merck’s Project I Design and Subaru’s Dining Out For Life, two high-profile HIV awareness campaigns.
20 years later, and Ellen Degeneres has become a household name. It’s easy to forget, however, that once upon a time, it was considered a bombshell when she announced she was a lesbian. Back in 1997, viewers around the country were shocked when Ellen announced on 20/20 that she was not going to hide her sexuality.
What makes Ellen’s story especially powerful was how she got the writers of her sitcom Ellen to get on board with the idea of her coming out. Throughout the fourth season of her sitcom, they dropped hints that it was going to happen. When Ellen came out, she broke through a lot of barriers: she helped normalize LGBTQ depictions of characters on TV and became the first female gay lead on a television show.
Ah, yes. One of my personal favorite TV personalities. The silver fox himself. Anderson Cooper might not have been the first cable news personality to come out (in fact, according to HuffingtonPost, he was at least the sixth), but he was (and is) one of the most popular hosts on cable news.
What I love about Anderson Cooper is that he never made a big deal about being gay. While that might sound weird, I think it shows that our society, in general, is moving in the right direction. Compared to Ellen’s coming out, Anderson simply made a short announcement that he was gay and that was that. Everyone still loves watching him on TV (unless, I suppose, if you really hate CNN), and the world continued to spin on its axis.
Lana and Lilly Wachowski
Lana Wachowski announced she was transgender years and years ago, but it took a few years for her sister, Lilly, to announce that she was also transgendered. The Wachowskis as writers/directors are sometimes hit or miss in their creative output (and trust me, this is coming from a fan and someone who thought the Matrix trilogy was revolutionary for moviemaking), but I hope they continue to create films and television shows, as they bring a unique vision and voices to disenfranchised individuals.
Bonus points: when Lilly announced she was transgender, the sisters sent a short statement to the LGBTQ publication Windy City News that simply read: “SEX CHANGE SHOCKER—WACHOWSKI BROTHERS NOW SISTERS!!!”
Josh Duke is the director of content at 2930 Creative and still thinks The Matrix is a great film.